It has only been open for a weekend but the film It is already proving enormously popular. The horror movie has given Hollywood’s ailing summer box office figures a boost with an estimated weekend take of $117.1 million, and has given fancy dress fans a reason to creep out members of the public.
It’s a triumph for Warner Bros, the film’s studio, who have been making the film with different directors and writers since 2009. True Detectivedirector-producer Cary Fukunaga was the second director and co-writer to take the project on, between 2012 and 2015, but disagreements about budget and script saw Argentine director Andy Muschietti create the finished product. But if Fukunaga had his way, the film would have been far more disturbing.
The film is based on Stephen King’s leviathan novel from 1986, of the same name, which famously had some scenes that would be unfilmable 30 years on. Namely, the group sex scene in which King’s coterie of 11-year-old murderous clown-hunters embark upon near the end of the novel.
King recently re-defended his creation of It, telling US pop culture website Vulture: “It’s fascinating to me that there has been so much comment about that single sex scene and so little about the multiple child murders. That must mean something, but I’m not sure what.”
When Chase Palmer and Fukunaga were adapting King’s book for the screen, they wisely chose to leave that scene out. Instead, the young characters – who are played by actors in their teens – form a blood pact.
But their original script did include unnerving sex scenes involving the young characters, in particular, 11-year-old abuse victim Beverly Marsh (played by 16-year-old newcomer Sophia Lillis).
As film website Screen Geek reports, the original script contained scenes so disturbing that the parents of young actors took their children out of the project. They were particularly horrified by scenes of incestuous rape.
One statement from a parent on a casting forum for child actors read:
I don’t remember [the group sex scene] being anything more than suggested in the original either. But it goes farther than that in this script. Much farther in a couple scenes, the father kissing her bare stomach, hands up her skirt to slip off panties, in addition she describes being gang raped to another character. Add it all up and it’s just too much for us. We were so excited when we got it, but there was a pretty hefty email from agent to read script and approve before agreeing due to content.
This is just gross. And I’m not talking about the content… I’m talking about directors/producers who want to hire underage actresses to make out with creepy old men.
Fukunaga’s original script reportedly included a scene in which the film’s school bully, Henry Bowers, raped a sheep and masturbated onto a birthday cake. Another child character, Stan Uris, encounters a rotting naked woman in the toilet of a Jewish temple and tries to seduce him by touching herself. One of the drafts lost a scene in which Pennywise, the clown, explains to Beverly’s father that he was kept alive purely so he could abuse her nightly.
Fukunaga is said to have spent two years writing the script, only to disagree with Warner Bros when it transpired that the studio didn’t want to make what he had envisioned. When it leaked online in March (it was swiftly removed from the internet), film writer Jacob Knight described the grisly script as “an outline for what could’ve been one of the great American horror films of our time”.
In 2015, the filmmaker gave an interview to Variety about the clash with Warner Bros, and why his version never made it to the screen. He said:
In the first movie, what I was trying to do was an elevated horror film with actual characters. They didn’t want any characters. They wanted archetypes and scares. I wrote the script. They wanted me to make a much more inoffensive, conventional script. But I don’t think you can do proper Stephen King and make it inoffensive.
Fukunaga also claims that King “liked” an earlier draft of the script he had shown him, and added that both he and Palmer had mined their childhood memories to write the screenplay:
We invested years and so much anecdotal storytelling in it. Chase and I both put our childhood in that story…. I wouldn’t want them to stealing our childhood memories and using that. I mean, I’m not sure if the fans would have liked what I would had done.
Muschietti’s version has been received well by critics and audiences, although some have said that the film adaptation misses some of King’s more psychedelic elements, as well as the novel’s sense of wider social horrors.
Sexual abuse remains one of the most horrifying themes of the film, however. The portrayal of Beverly and her relationship with her father remains loyal to King’s creation. Many viewers commented on Twitter that the scariest part of It was not Pennywise, but Mr Marsh.